Mars Exchange
Is a one-way journey to Mars wrong?

Is a one-way journey to Mars wrong?

by Vince on Tuesday, 5th August 2014 in Expert Opinions, People, Mason Peck

We get asked that a lot, so we’re starting our very first Mars One Exchange with that question. In this series, expert advisers to Mars One will answer your questions. You get to ask the tough questions, and together we’ll build the exchange.

Our first guest adviser is Mason Peck, PhD, an adviser to Mars One. A professor in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell University, Peck served as NASA’s Chief Technologist from late 2011 through 2013, advising the head of NASA on technology issues. In addition to his doctorate in aerospace engineering, Peck has an academic background in humanities. He agreed to answer a group of questions surrounding the ethics of our mission. We broke up our discussion with him into 5 parts. For part 1, we start with quite a question to kick things off!

So, taken directly from a recent Mars One community member survey…

Is a one-way mission insane? Here’s how Mason Peck responded to the question:

“There are many motivations for becoming one of the first settlers on Mars, none of them insane in my opinion. These include:

  • “A noble sense of self-sacrifice, if you believe that extending human presence into the solar system will help ensure the survival of the species."
  • “A desire for the immortality that comes with fame, despite the risk to life and limb. In some sense, putting yourself at risk helps ensure your influence on the history of humanity will outlive your physical being."
  • “A desire for personal accomplishment, or overcoming a challenge, the same sort of thing that drives people to join expeditions to the summit of Mount Everest."
  • “Self-interest, including the prospect of making money as a Mars entrepreneur, or helping your family and friends back on Earth do the same."

“It will be essential for all involved to proceed with a clear understanding of the risks: that is, the probability of success (or failure) and the consequences. To me, that’s the key ethical concern: transparency. If people choose to undertake this risky activity with full knowledge of the risks, I see no ethical issues. In fact, I think we may be morally obligated to permit people the freedom to do so, and not impede their desire to realize their dreams by imposing our own fears or superstitions based on uninformed perspectives."

“I also reject this Kobayashi Maru scenario on its face. [For readers unfamiliar with Kobayashi Maru, it’s a famous no-win test scenario used in several Star Trek films and novels.]  One of the first things I would do upon landing is to begin building the tools, the equipment, and the economic structures to one day build an Earth return vehicle. Such a hope would not be irrational. In fact, it’s easier to lift off from Mars and enter Mars orbit than to do the same on Earth. I’m confident that the right group of engineers could pull this off over the course of a couple of decades, at least returning to cislunar space. And remember—they’ll likely have internet access. So, the folks back home can send them schematics, analyses, even test results, to help make that effort a success.”

That’s one view, straight from a Mars One adviser.

What do you think? Looking forward to hearing your opinions!

Story contributed by Vincent Hyman, a Mars One volunteer living in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA. 

Photo credits header image:

  • Left: NASA / Bill Ingalls
  • Center: WPI Marketing & Communications / Boynton Hall
  • Right: NASA Goddard / Bill Hrybyk
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